In a preshow post, I compared the upcoming virtual WWDC to late-season “M*A*S*H.” If you watched the show during its original run or have since binged it on Netflix or Hulu, you’re likely aware of the producers’ uncomfortable transition away from using a laugh track. It was an ultimately beneficial choice in a show about a mobile military hospital during the Korean War, but shifting viewer expectations wasn’t easy, so it was done gradually, over time.
After so many years of priming audiences for a large online spectacle, event teams haven’t had the same luxury. Some shifted online last minute and others simply canceled the shows altogether. Even though COVID-19 was looming for months, there was really no simple decision here, and as such many of these first-time virtual-only events have been uncomfortably awkward and primarily defined by what they’re not.
Microsoft made a valiant attempt to embrace the temporarily new normal with its recent Build conference. The result was, at best, a mixed bag, relying on cringe-inducing banter by two employees to anchor several days of developer events. Where the presentation most shined, however, was when it was at its most simplistic: Satya Nadella stood in front of a bookshelf to address the weirdness of the situation and moved on with the day’s news. It was one of those moments where you found yourself grateful that the CEO is the emotional opposite of his screaming predecessor.
One could simply ignore the strangeness of it all — the absence of a live audience packed with a cheering section full of developers and employees. But to do so would be doing it a disservice.